Review: Deadly Premonition

November 16, 2010, Author: James Sheppard

Deadly Premonition, like all murder mystery games, raises a lot of questions. Who is the killer? Who is the main character’s split personality, and why does no one question him publicly being talked to? Why does the game look years old? How do you get money for shaving your facial hair, saving the game and perving in old women’s windows? Why am I being mouth-raped by zombies doing the backwards limbo? Where did my sanity go? What were the developers thinking?

Unfortunately, Deadly Premonition creates a lot more questions than it answers. Developed by Access Games, I think I can quite honestly say I have never, in my many years of gaming, come across anything remotely like it. Available for a mere £15-20 at release, this astonishing piece of… I don’t know… has been in the making for a long time, originally intended as a budget title on PS2. I’m guessing they just had far too much fun making it to be bothered about releasing it any time sooner, so who knows how many years down the line, here it finally is, on the Xbox 360.

Previously during the investigation…
The storyline is loosely based on the plot of a 1990’s TV show called Twin Peaks, and by loosely based on I mean completely carbon-copied. You play FBI Agent Francis York Morgan, a completely socially inept narcissist with multiple personality disorder, severe nicotine addiction and a belief that his coffee can predict the future. The game sends you out on a case to Greenvale Town, after a young girl is murdered and strung up on a tree. Technically, there are two playable characters: Agent York himself, and his invisible friend Zach, who he talks to on a regular basis.

Well, would you look at that Zach? A mini person

As soon as you arrive at the town, you crash your car and are faced with hordes of oddly flexible zombies wanting to stick their appendages in your mouth, and the game only gets weirder from there. The storyline is quite hefty, involving investigating around the bizarre town and its even more bizarre residents: all sorts of eccentric characters await, such as Sigourney the pot lady (she luuurves her cooking pot).

The whole storyline and atmosphere of the game feels distinctly like a B-movie or TV show, but in a good way; there is even a ‘previously during the investigation’ recap, each time you boot it up. Not to mention, it’ll probably last you somewhere between twenty-to-forty hours, depending on your enthusiasm to tackle the fifty possible side-quests. These days when titles like Call of Duty and Halo, with millions and millions of dollars poured into them, end up with campaigns that you can complete in your lunch break, this isn’t to be sniffed at.

Furthermore, the game’s story is communicated to you by an impressive amount of cut-scenes. If Metal Gear Solid does your head in with its ‘movies within a game’, then so will this, which can have little button presses to make for up to half an hour at a time. If you’re quite happy to put up with these though, the huge amount of side-quests and cut-scenes really develop the characters and story of Deadly Premonition, both of which are some of the most uniquely crafted I have ever seen in a video game.

Resident awful
Off to a good start, then. Onto the gameplay. Deadly Premonition plays like a mixture between Grand Theft Auto and Resident Evil. “Awesome!” I hear you cry. “Not so!” I cry, in return. ‘Flawed’ is an adjective that describes this game through and through. The controls feel very reminiscent of Resident Evil, and I mean before Capcom realised they were rubbish, and made them competent. Shooting requires standing still on the spot, and flailing the laser sight round until you get an ‘x marks the spot’ on a zombie’s head. Which by this time, is probably already just centimetres away, mouth agape and getting undead spittle all over your nice suit.

The consequence of too much Yogalates

The shooting mechanics aren’t the worse part of the game, however. These feel sublime in comparison to the driving elements. Not only does the game suck any possible fun out of it by restricting you to police vehicles and to driving at the speed limit, but the handling and physics are abysmal. Cars are unhappy to do anything other than go in a straight line, and joyfully bounce off anything you ram in to, including the giant zombie dogs that inexplicably spawn on the roads late at night.

Deadly Premonition also feels determined to get in your way and make things difficult. Not necessarily the combat, which isn’t too challenging save for a few exceptions later on, but in fact everything that shouldn’t be difficult: trying to pick an item up when you have a full inventory for example (an easy mistake), makes you stand on the spot and read through the painstakingly slow text, completely vulnerable to any bendy zombies nearby wanting to hump your face.

Perhaps chief among the bad design decisions of the game is navigating the map, a scarier experience than all the game’s zombies put together. For starters, once it has finally loaded, it is zoomed in too far, and doesn’t let you actually get a full view of the map no matter how much you plead with it. There is also no way to jump to your position, set waypoints, or in fact anything remotely useful. This is appalling in a title that is so heavily based around travelling from mission to mission, and exploring the town.

It’s a shame that it’s so hard to find your way around, as there’s a lot to find when you have a good look. The residents of the town all live out their lives realistically, and will often tell you different pieces of information and give you different side quests depending on where they are, and the time of day. A lot of these are mundane fetch quests, but they’re worth it for the extra tidbits of back story and the items you can get; weapons with unlimited ammo, and a radio that enables fast travel for example.

Take the children, just spare me!

There are also mini-games on offer, although these are best left well enough alone. A driving mini-game sees you pointlessly driving around the town through checkpoints to background music that sounds oddly reminiscent of Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’. This lasts far too long, and to be honest anything that requires you to drive any more than is already necessary, is a foul, torturous creation.

Another delightfully joyous option is a fishing mini-game, something that might have been good fun if it just relied on timing when the fish bites like Animal Crossing, but instead stupidly works on a frustrating slots-like system that relies mostly on luck and often just leaves you with nothing, and steals your bait.

How well-made are the main missions though? Technically, not much better. Agent York ‘investigates’ by killing zombies and finding clues, each one playing a short film over and over, every time revealing a bit more about how the killer operated. An interesting idea, but it’s a bit dull watching the same scene several times. Zombie encounters are also very repetitive; zombie comes out of wall, groans, you enter a whole clip of ammo into it, it groans again, and keels over, wailing what sounds like “I don’t want to diiieeee…” rinse and repeat. Wall crawlers are one exception but no less repetitive, requiring just running backwards and forwards down a corridor, and firing away into its bullet sponge of a body in the short timeframe it is actually vulnerable.

Isn't this all a bit soon? I prefer to at least have dinner first

Every so often the ‘Raincoat Killer’ comes along too (the murderer), necessitating hiding in a cupboard and twiddling your thumbs whilst he slowly scours the room, or performing a surprisingly harsh quick-time button event. He then, for some unfathomable reason, waggles his finger in a “naughty, naughty” manner and buggers off in a huff. I wish I was making this up. There are so many ridiculous happenings in this game, you’re constantly left wondering what’s going to happen next. Warning: next paragraph is a mild spoiler.

Example: After fighting some zombies, York’s investigative buddies turn up (most of the time you get the impression the zombies are all in his head: no one else ever sees them) and they find a woman hanging from a rope above a rather large, pointy sculpture. Efforts to get her down fail, and York has to heroically jump to save her, in mid-air. The woman is madly deluded and goes on a sexual rant about how she wishes to be penetrated by the arousing sculpture, and then the sculpture falls on top of her, squishing her into a bloody mess. After this extremely bizarre and dramatic situation, the music abruptly changes into an upbeat tune, and then what can only be described as a detective dog enters the scene, and happily leads you through the blood-stained building as if nothing has happened, to find someone locked in a cellar. What the fu…

So much of Deadly Premonition is simply beyond comprehension. I don’t know if it’s a bug or on purpose, but lollipops respawn infinitely, for instance. Another thing is that for some reason, this game has a basic life-simulator built-in. York needs to eat and sleep on a regular basis, and must even shave to avoid growing a beard, and change his clothes otherwise they become dirty and smelly, attracting flies. This is yet another charming, yet baffling and utterly useless aspect of the game.

Cigarettes help you advance time, and coffee tells the future. What do harder drugs do? Influenced the development of the game, no doubt

This doesn’t look so good, Zach
When considering the graphical quality of Deadly Premonition, several phrases come to mind; “it’s what’s on the inside that counts”, “looks not even a Mother could love”, and “holy shit, blood is physically seeping from my eyes”. This is such a despicably ugly game that will make you want to weep, boot up some Crysis on maximum graphics settings and purify your dirty, contaminated soul.

Often the game has an unexplainable magenta hue, and is rather lacking in contrast, resulting in appearing a bit washed out. This is the least of its worries though, with woefully blurry textures, starkly plain scenery, animations that degrade to a couple of frames a second when any character or monster is a few metres away, and object models that range from almost-this-gen, to N64 quality (trees are constructed of a few 2D sprites interlocked to produce the effect of 3D, remember when games used to do that?)

To be honest, after playing for a while your eyes adjust to the visual disgrace, especially considering all of the other crazy stuff that’s going on. The graphics are quite appropriate really, considering how terrible most of the rest of the game is.

I think it's f***ed, Zach

Like a massacre to your ears
You’d be forgiven for thinking that after hearing what the graphics and gameplay are like, that the sound in Deadly Premonition is probably also dreadfully implemented, and that’s because you’d be right. In concept, some of the tunes are quite appropriate for the game, and some are even quite catchy, like a certain one I can’t stop whistling. Other music includes a freakishly bizarre jazz piece and the aforementioned Green Day tribute, and whereas these are arguably deplorable, they fit with the absurd style of the game pretty well.

The problem is, from a technical stand point, the sound is awfully done. Sometimes the music blares out during a cut-scene and completely drowns out a character’s dialogue, which makes you thankful for the subtitles enabled by default. The choices at times are also absolutely mystifying, jarringly playing a chirpy little number when there’s some real serious business going on, about as tastefully done as playing Queen’s ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ at a funeral.

The dialogue is also ridiculously cheesy, over-acted and just downright abysmal, and hilariously so. Conversations you participate in are fascinatingly wacky, letting you learn all of the eccentric townsfolk’s life stories, and sharing anecdotes over dinner about past brutal murder cases, of killers slaughtering women and using their skulls to urinate in and drink out of (something York cannot abide, for its bad hygiene practices). As an added bonus to keep you busy on the otherwise tormenting dull driving trips, York will regularly talk to Zach about all sorts of daft topics, like past murder cases, movies and punk rock concerts ‘they’ve’ experienced.

Well, after an extensive autopsy examination, I can conclude that the victim is indeed dead.

What do you think, Zach?
In conclusion, Deadly Premonition is bad, really bad. In many ways, it’s built so poorly it would have still been shameful back in the PS2 days. The driving controls are cringe-worthy, the combat is pathetic, the implementation of the background music is about as successful as the launch of the Titanic, and I’ve probably not seen a game this generation look quite so foul. On top of this, the game regularly makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. In fact, I could go on all day about the dire features of this game, but then I would be missing the point.

Deadly Premonition, by either ingenious development, or much more likely, an absolute miracle, is somehow too hard to properly dislike. It emulates cult B-movies perfectly, and if I’m honest, it was its unparalleled, ludicrously brilliant awfulness which kept me playing the game. The outlandish story, characters and atmosphere are just too genuinely likeable to pass up, and quite often I had to literally hold back tears of laughter.

I have no doubt as to which award to give Deadly Premonition: and that is a ‘Try it’ rating, because absolutely every gamer owes it to themselves to experience it at least once. I mean it.


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